Critic's Choice: Flavors of Spain that are anything but plain

Los Angeles Times

Ask anybody about their favorite Italian restaurants and the list can be long. Spanish? Not so much, because Los Angeles is not exactly awash in places to eat gazpacho, escalivada and tortilla española. But we do have a handful of very good Spanish restaurants where you can relax over a glass of sherry or Ribera del Duero and order up an array of tapas or pinxtos (Basque-style tapas).

The Bazaar

The Bazaar, from Spanish chef José Andrés, is many things. At the Rojo & Blanca tapas bar, the menu comes in two parts: traditional and modern. The genius lies in the ability to mix and match. Ingredients are the highest quality, and every bite is a revelation, plus the place is giddy fun. Try the escalivada, codfish fritters and braised rabbit from the traditional side; "Philly cheesesteak," sautéed cauliflower "couscous" and tomato heart and watermelon from the modern menu. Or just take a seat at the bar and indulge in the finest hand-cut jamón on the planet from acorn-fed, free-range black-footed pigs.

SLS Hotel Beverly Hills, 465 S. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 246-5555, Dishes, $5 to $42.


Teresa Montaño turns a modern eye and palate to the traditional flavors of the Spanish (and French) Basque country. Her cooking at Ración is pure delight. Bring friends and share lamb meatballs in a tomato glaze, wonderful smoked mussels with chorizo and English peas or fried oysters with caper aioli. Pintxos served atop bread include a delicious braised beef tongue with pickled shallot and calamari a la plancha with melted onions. She's got larger plates too, such as hanger steak with Cabrales cheese and Basque cider. Or canelones stuffed with braised oxtails. For dessert: what else but her dreamy crema catalana.

119 W. Green St., Pasadena, (626) 396-3090, Bar snacks and pintxos, $5 to $14; larger plates, $9 to $36.

Bar Pintxo

Fantasy Saturday afternoon? Sitting at a sidewalk table outside Pintxo, catching some ocean breeze while delving into a plate of sumptuous aged jamón ibérico. Joe Miller (Joe's Restaurant) was a Francophile all the way until he fell in love with Spain. Lucky for us, because that prompted him to open this Santa Monica tapas bar stocked with Spanish wines and cheeses and serving Basque-inspired pintxos as well as traditional tapas (gambas al ajillo, patatas bravas, tortilla española — and albóndigas). Try it out for happy hour, when you can get six pintxos for $6. Turns out he's got cocktails too.

109 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 458-2012, Pintxos, $3 to $6; tapas, $6 to $16.

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